Like any other property, music copyrights and the individual exclusive rights thereof, can be transferred, sold, licensed, and divided among several owners. In general, to use recorded copyrighted music, you will need permission from both the musical work owner (typically a publisher) and the sound recording owner (typically a record company). Note, however, if you re-record a song (instead of using a pre-recorded version), permission generally is only required from the musical work owner (since you are not using someone else’s sound recording).
As we have previously discussed, the owner of the copyright in a work has certain exclusive rights in that work. Anyone who violates the exclusive rights of the copyright owner is an infringer of that copyright.
To establish copyright infringement, you must establish that you own a valid copyright in the work and that:
As we have previously discussed, a copyright is first owned by its author (whether individually or on a “work made for hire” basis). Like with any other property, the author can transfer ownership of a copyright (in whole or in part as a fractional portion) to another person or party. However, copyright law has specific rules governing such transfers.
Once a copyright is created, protection generally lasts for 70 years after the death of the author and in some cases 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. That’s a long time! After that time, the copyright protection ceases and the underlying work becomes public domain.
More specifically, the term of copyright under the Copyright Act depends on when the work was created, as follows:
The process of crediting songwriters has always been somewhat tricky, but in today’s collaborative-driven songwriting culture it’s more important than ever before. Everything from songwriting collaboration software to trends increasingly favoring artists who feature one another in their work makes the process of properly crediting songwriters hugely important and often complicated.
After your band has written and recorded a song, who actually owns the song? This simple question does not necessarily have a simple answer. How many people were involved in the writing process? Were there other people involved in the recording process? Did you hire a producer? Did you use other background vocalists or musicians in the studio? Did you use “work made for hire” agreements with individuals involved in the process? Do you have a band agreement? The answers to these and other important questions help determine who actually owns the copyrights in any given song.
We are pleased to introduce a new blog series. Music Law 101 will be a recurring bi-weekly series consisting of posts covering a wide variety of legal topics relevant to artists, musicians, songwriters, producers, and others in the music industry. Topics will include information on copyright law, trademark law, the right of publicity, laws relating to agents and managers, and music contract law.
With the Music Law 101 series, we intend to break down legal jargon to make the concepts useful to you as you create, perform, and distribute music. We want to help you Protect Your Music and Protect Yourself.